MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota terrorism suspect accused of sending men from Minnesota to their native Somalia to join an al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Shabab, used them as "cannon fodder," a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty told jurors during closing arguments of a nearly three-week trial that they should convict Mahamud Said Omar, who faces five terrorism-related counts accusing him of participating in a conspiracy and providing support to the terrorist group.
"After other people had indoctrinated these young men, he helped them. He helped them physically and he helped them financially to get to Somalia to join al-Shabab," Mr. Docherty said.
Defense attorney Andrew Birrell said the prosecution's case is built on the corrupt testimony of al-Shabab recruits who repeatedly lied and spoke out against his client only because their plea deals required it.
"This case demonstrates why our government should not make deals with terrorists," Mr. Birrell said. "They make the whole case unreliable."
The government's case against Mr. Omar, 46, is the first to go to trial in a long-running investigation of recruiting by al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terror group at the center of much of the violence in Somalia. Authorities say that since 2007, more than 20 young men went to the East African nation from Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the United States. At least six of those men have died and others are presumed dead, according to family members and the FBI.
Earlier defendants in the case pleaded guilty and have yet to be sentenced. Mr. Omar faces life in prison if convicted.
Mr. Omar was accused of helping travelers get tickets for their trips from Minnesota, staying at an al-Shabab safe house in Somalia and providing $1,000 for weapons.
Mr. Docherty ticked off key evidence for jurors: Mr. Omar's own statements, including when he told the FBI he went to Somalia to join al-Shabab; telephone conversations and testimony from other witnesses who either traveled to Somalia or helped travelers; and business documents, including money transfer and travel records.
Mr. Docherty reminded the jury of the death of Shirwa Ahmed, a Minneapolis man, in a suicide bombing in Somalia in 2008. Even after that bombing, Mr. Docherty said, Mr. Omar helped a group of men travel to Somalia, taking them to a travel agency and ferrying one man to the bank to withdraw money for a ticket.
"Maybe al-Shabab needed more cannon fodder, and al-Shabab knew where to get more cannon fodder — here," Mr. Docherty said. "And the defendant was the guy who moved the cannon fodder through the pipeline."
Mr. Docherty also said that on the days when some of the men left in 2008, Mr. Omar called them several times before their flights and again on their layovers en route to Somalia — to make sure they were still going and hadn't decided to run away.
"What you are seeing here is an al-Shabab team leader at work," Mr. Docherty said.
Mr. Docherty said any suggestion by the defense that Mr. Omar isn't capable of organizing anything was false.
Mr. Birrell, in his closing argument, called Mr. Omar "a frightened little man" who "never directed anything in his life." The men who went to Somalia were younger, computer-literate and better educated than Mr. Omar — perfectly capable of arranging trips on their own, he said. Mr. Omar was so afraid that when he was first arrested in the Netherlands, he threw up in the car, Mr. Birrell said.
Mr. Omar didn't go to a single organizational meeting in 2007, didn't go to an al-Shabab training camp, didn't participate in any fighting or touch a gun, Mr. Birrell told jurors.
"The skeleton in this case they are trying to create has no spine and it falls," Mr. Birrell said.